Podcast: Race and Class Inequality in Local Politics

The American Political Science Association’s Presidential Task Force on Racial and Class Inequalities in the Americas main goal was to interrogate the relationship between race and class in producing material, political, and social inequalities in the nations of the Americas. The Task Force also sought to examine how the political systems in these countries work to foment and/or ameliorate inequalities that track with ethnic and racial identities and socioeconomic status.

In the podcast, Alvin Tillery, Jr., Northwestern University and Juliet Hooker, University of Texas at Austin sit down with authors Jessica Trounstine, University of California, Merced, and Zoltan Hajnal, University of California, San Diego, to discuss their work for the task force.

Listen to the podcast:

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Teaser from the Chapter:

In this chapter, Race and Class Inequality in Local Politics, we assess the effect of race and class divisions on the urban political arena in the United States. We present an array of data from our previous research that outlines the roles race and class play in shaping both individual political choice and overall political representation in urban politics.

We find that both factors significantly shape political behavior and outcomes, but that race is the primary driver of urban politics across most contexts. The centrality of race and to a lesser extent class in shaping the vote has widespread consequences for representation at the local level. Across an array of different indicators, racial and ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups are poorly represented in the local arena. Minorities are more apt than whites to end up on the losing side of the vote, they are grossly underrepresented in elected offices, and at the end of the day, they are less happy than whites with city government. Local democracy, by almost all accounts, is more likely to represent the interests of whites and the wealthy than the interests of minorities and the poor.

There are, however, potential solutions. Turnout is a linchpin for several forms of minority achievement. Expanded turnout is associated with more minorities in office and more minority friendly policy. Those policies are, in turn, linked with greater minority satisfaction with local government. Beyond turnout, we highlight a range of other documented solutions including local policy change and institutional reform.

Our discussion proceeds as follows. First, we provide evidence of unevenness in participation and explore racial divides in vote choice. Then we turn to an assessment of representation in local politics, looking to see which voters elect their favored candidates, which candidates win election to office, and which residents are happiest with the governance of these local officials. Finally, we examine potential solutions to under-representation and discuss emerging questions for the future of our diverse communities.